Cottesloe Surf Lifesaving Club: 100 years of Surf, Sand and Sculpture

Posted: March 5, 2009 / Essays

Cottesloe Club House 1926. Photo courtesy of the Cottesloe Surf Life Saving Club.

By Frank Gasch

A long time member of the Cottesloe SLSC, publisher, writer and caricaturist

Is anyone bold enough to sculpt a shark in a manner that truly embodies our deepest held fears, a powerful force, a shaping force, a sea monster that inhabits our imagination?

In November 1925 Simeon Ettleson died after being attacked by a large shark on a hot, still, day at Cottesloe beach.

Five days later a large tiger shark died after being caught and shot at by a policeman at Cottesloe beach. According to one author, in the struggle the shark tore the hook from its mouth but the policeman, Constable Dan Hunt, apprehended the suspect having leapt into the water and secured a rope around its tail. The shark was dragged from the water across the sand to the surf club that was located in a wooden beachfront building at the time. It was exhibited mounted on coir mat covered with ice in the hall for fundraising.

Saving Lives
This fundraising for essential surf lifesaving equipment has continued throughout the 100 year history of the Cottesloe Surf Life Saving Club (CSLSC). The struggle has been constant but the community has been rewarded by the provision of a much safer beach.

After the 1925 shark attack the forces of fear and action reshaped Cottesloe beach with some of the longest lasting changes in the beach’s history. These monumental events occurred 19 years after the construction of the wooden jetty at Cottesloe beach and 16 years after the first surf life saving club in WA was founded.

In an excerpt from ‘The Premier Club’ (1984), one of the history books written about the CSLSC, author Edwin Jaggard notes:
Founded in the spring of 1909, Cottesloe enjoys the honour of being Western Australia’s most successful surf life saving organization, having won the state premiership on twenty occasions since competition began in 1926. Furthermore it was a group of the most far-sighted and hard-working members, J.L. Paton prominent among them, who in 1925 prompted the formation of Western Australia’s Surf Life Saving Association.

The sculpted members of the CSLSC, themselves a draw card for Cottesloe beach, so well drilled in gymnastic and rescue displays, formalised the first regular, rostered weekend beach patrols following the attack. The voluntary patrols by proficient surf lifesavers continue to this day.

Beach Icons
The beautiful Pacific maple curves of the ‘Boan’, the first surfboat built specifically for life saving purposes in WA, were christened in the Indian Ocean at Cottesloe. Shapely surfboats continue to carve and ride the wind-sculpted waves west of Cottesloe’s white sands.

The need to watch the water, to be vigilant to the risk of danger, spurred the first lookout towers to be constructed on the beach. The originals were made from windmill towers with a sharp-eyed surf lifesaver atop, like a cormorant scanning the water for the fiash of a silver scale. Cottesloe beachgoers have been comforted by the tall forms of the surf patrol towers ever since.

After the shark attack swimming embargo was lifted at Cottesloe in 1925, a safe swimming area of about 70 metres, was for the first time, demarcated by flags on the beach. The iconic red and yellow fiags of the present day, with their psychological protective powers against numerous imagined dangers, are the descendents that help sun scorched beachgoers enjoy a cooling dip.

A Pylon of Strength
Then there is ‘the pylon’, the Cottesloe Beach pylon, the sculptural icon of Cottesloe Beach. It was completed on April Fools Day 1936 as part of “Foreman’s Folly”, the never.completed shark proof pool. The listing concrete sentinel is slowly toppling into the sea while the CSLSC, grows in member-ship and strength.

In 2009 the CSLSC celebrates a centenary of voluntary public service to the local community and weekend visitors to Cottesloe Beach.

The clubrooms crown the cliffs of Mudurup Rocks overlooking the Cottesloe coastline north and south. From the surf club balconies one can appreciate among the splashes of summer swimmers the leaning stalwart pylon that embodies so much local and personal history in its form. The surf lifesavers of Cottesloe watch over the swimmers and beach goers as intently in 2009 as they did following the tragedy of 1925.

A strong argument could be made it is not the shark that is worthy of the sculptor’s attention. Nor is it the fear of the sea monster in the weedy shadows that shapes the club. It is the people, the life within the surf lifesaving club, the strength and actions of the membership that create the form, history and future of the club and its shaping of the beach, as much as the beach shapes them. The sculpture is all around you. It is the sculptor and audience, the life force within people, that creates Sculpture by the Sea.

Join us in our centenary year.

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